Pooja Sankar, CEO and founder of Piazza
Courtesy of Piazza
By Pooja Sankar
May 1, 2015

MPW Insider is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: Describe one make or break moment in your career–how did you navigate it? is written by Pooja Sankar, CEO and founder of Piazza.

Starting my own business wasn’t the result of one make or break moment–it was the result of three. I was raised in a traditional rural town in India and forbidden to speak (or even make eye contact) with men. I went to school with all women, some of whom were dropping out for arranged marriages as early as 13 years old. But I had a different plan for my life. I studied hard and became the first woman from my town to get accepted into the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) for computer science. After graduation I was faced with my first make or break moment: stay in a traditional arranged marriage or move to the United States to pursue my dream of becoming a software developer? I decided to move to the U.S. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made—and the first step I needed to take in order to start my own business.

I accepted a job offer at Facebook and was inspired by a talk Sheryl Sandberg gave about the barriers women face in the workplace. This was critical moment number two. Despite having no money and being newly divorced, I decided to leave all of my pre-IPO Facebook options on the table and went to Stanford Business School. I was determined to get the education I needed to start my own company.

At Stanford I set out to form my own venture. I searched for a co-founder, but couldn’t find the right fit. I considered partnering with classmates on their start-ups, but those start-ups were their dreams–not mine. It wasn’t until a classmate said, “You can do this alone” that I realized I really was capable of launching a business by myself. I had done everything else on my own up until this point, so why would this be any different? This was critical moment number three.

Before I graduated business school, (which I barely did because I failed an entrepreneurship class due to time spent building my business) I had already closed my first round of funding. Each one of these critical moments pushed me to work harder, ultimately leading me to fulfill my dream–creating my own company.

Read all answers to the MPW Insider question: Describe one make or break moment in your career–how did you navigate it?

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Why I quit my job to start my own business by Gay Gaddis, CEO and founder of T3.

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Why I gave up everything to start a career in Singapore by Perry Yeatman, CEO of Perry Yeatman Global Partners.

Why I choose to put my children before my work by Lauren Stiller Rikleen, president of Rikleen Institute for Strategic Leadership.

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